April 16, 2010

SUBSIDIZING SUBSIDIARITY:

The State Scores Again (Anthony Esolen, 4/12/10, InsideCatholic)


The Thomistic view of the polis underlies the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, which asserts that communities closest to the issue at hand should be allowed the freedom to tackle it. That is not simply because they do a better job of it, as some conservatives insist. It is because the fullness of community life is essential to our being human. It is doubtful that the state, much less the federal government, is better at educating children than were the fully engaged American townsmen of old, who hired and fired their own teachers at will, and had a fairly clear idea of what their children ought to learn. But even if it could do the job well, its assumption of that role would take from the community one of the most important responsibilities it possesses. It would overstep its own zone of authority to usurp another. Supposing some state agency could, with wonderful efficiency, feed children and make them do their homework and put them to bed; still, its exercise of this role would rob from the people one of the great challenges and joys of life, the raising of children according to one's own best lights.

When Alexis de Tocqueville observed America, he saw a democracy, for the time being, both bolstered and buffered by free associations of people -- by families, community schools, churches, fraternities and sororities, beneficent organizations, and so forth. These made for a vital public life -- and were correctives against both the ambitions of the state and the radical individualism that democracy can encourage. There was still the strong sense that government at all levels was but the creation of free citizens, who possessed, in their families and in other associations, their own duties and even their own rightful giving of laws. [...]

The question, then, is not simply, "What system will most efficiently deliver health care to the most people?" I do not believe that it will help to nationalize medicine; but that is another issue. The real question is, "What traditions and laws best preserve the liberty of a people, not to do as they please, but to take responsibility for themselves and their communities, so that they will enjoy as fully as possible the human flourishing of the polis?" If we become beholden to the national government for our very health -- let alone for the education of our children -- what will be left for us to do but follow that government along tamely, conceding all matters to its purview?


The distinctive genius of the Third Way is that it uses universal government programs to make citizens dependent on themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 16, 2010 5:48 AM
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